Thursday, February 9, 2012

Furry and Feathered Friends

Hey everyone, I thought you might like an update on Molly.  She's growing really fast and is such a quick learner.  She already knows a few basic commands and is so smart!  I did have to install a baby gate because she's now able to climb up and down stairs and she had a bit of a run-in with our cat (who lives upstairs).  Here are some pics:

She knows "Box" means go to your crate.  She's going to be too big for it soon!

Reading the label on the door?

She loves her Kong rubber chew toy - especially when it's stuffed with peanut butter!

Am I a good girl?  Am I going to get a treat?

Fed up with waiting for me to take her for a walk.

As well, our blue jays are back, and they brought some friends! Here are some cedar waxwings, hanging out on the spirea:

Here's a close-up:

The spirea gives a mass of lovely red berries. As well, I put out a block of suet in the feeder, but so far only the jays seem interested.

We have bald eagles up on the west mountain, and ravens on the east.  Anyone know how I can attract some cardinals?

The snow is pretty deep around here, and we've been able to see some interesting animal tracks.  A rabbit ran across the road:

.... closely followed by a raven:

We've also seen moose, bobcat and coyote tracks. This morning I saw deer tracks.  And there's a rumour of a cougar sighting ... yikes!

Okay that's all for now, a certain puppy is demanding her afternoon walk!

Winter Woollies

Back in the suburbs and cities, folks are walking around in shirtsleeves in their centrally heated, 21 degrees C homes, offices, stores and malls.  It's funny what you get used to.  In the days before central heating, our parents and grandparents had many cheap and efficient ways to keep warm.  I've listed a few below:

Housecoats. (that's a dressing gown if you're British)
Aran cardigans.
Hot water bottles.
Car blankets.
Longjohns ("onesies" if you prefer, or thermal underwear)
Draft excluders.
Winter curtains.

If you'll notice, none of the above items requires electricity.  None of them are electronic.  And once bought, they last a very long time.  In the modern suburban/urban lifestyle, these things have fallen into disuse, as most people keep their thermostat set at 21 degrees C all winter.  In some apartment buildings and condos, as well as most office buildings, I believe this is the standard temperature.  You can walk around in shirtsleeves, you don't need any of the items listed above, and you're burning one hell of a lot of electricity and/or natural gas, for which you can bet you're being charged an exhorbitant amount by the utility company.  And then when folks go to bed, no doubt they have an electric blanket.

As I write this at my kitchen table, the thermometer on the wall reads 17 degrees C.  Outside, it's -8.  We don't have central heating, but I'm quite comfortable with my woolly cardigan on, woollen pants and fleecy slippers.  If I get chilly, there's a car blanket draped over the back of the couch.  When I go to bed, it's pre-warmed with my hot water bottle, and that stays warm until morning.  (I'm not revealing what I wear to bed, but you can probably guess.  It's on the list.)  When I get up, if it's a bit chilly, I have a lovely oversized housecoat to wrap around myself.

Like I said, none of the above items require electricity.  They used to be very ordinary household things, sensible ways to stay warm in the days when people had one fireplace with a chimney breast to heat the whole house.  I think it's a shame that they've fallen out of fashion.  Out here in the country, we look to the old ways of keeping warm, and it doesn't cost us a dime.

21 degrees always felt way too hot to me, and I really think that 17 or 18 is a healthier temperature.  And if you feel cold at our house, as grandma used to tell you, just put on a sweater!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Water: you don't know what you've got til it's gone

There are times when the off-grid life seems idyllic.  There are other times when it's a royal pain in the ass.  One day, you're walking through a winter wonderland, marvelling at the pristine landscape and the sheer beauty of the snow-covered wilderness.  The next day, you're at the threshold of Hell.

Winter Wonderland.  (I don't have any pictures of Hell.)

Remember when Paul rented a backhoe and buried our water line so that it wouldn't freeze during the winter?  Then painstakingly insulated the parts that couldn't be buried, again so that it wouldn't freeze during the winter?  Well, winter came, and we were doing great, we had a runoff pipe that we kept constantly flowing.  Whenever the mercury dropped below zero, we simply opened up a valve.  As long as water is flowing, it won't freeze, right?  Everything was working perfectly until one day the temperature plummeted to -8.  Even though the valve was fully open, the water flow got slower and slower, until there was no water at all.  The pipe was frozen solid.

A trip up to the water intake revealed that animals had discovered our pipe insulation, and decided it made great nesting material.  They had stripped the pipe bare, exposing it to the sub-zero temperatures.  Paul tried heating the line, and took it apart in various spots to try and get the flow back, but it was futile - until the weather warmed up enough to melt the stubborn ice, we would be without water.  Even then, we knew that as soon as the temperature fell again, it would freeze again.  We needed a backup plan.

Frozen water pipe up at the source.

Ironically, the stream that flows down the mountain was providing plenty of water, and it all ended up in our pond.  We had brought with us from Ontario a number of large plastic barrels, and luckily, they just happened to fit through the door to the basement ...

A couple of trips to the hardware store furnished us with a heavy duty pump, as well as two 12 volt mini pumps.  The plan that was hatched in my (genius) husband's mind began to take shape.  One barrel, fitted with a shut-off valve, went into the back of the truck.  Three empty barrels stood ready in the basement, one of which was hooked up to the heavy duty pump which fed into our household water pipes.  Paul drove the truck to the pond. A length of hose with a filter on the end went into the water that feeds our pond (at which point Paul had thrown a few shovelfuls of clean gravel to act as a natural filter) ... thence through one of the mini pumps ... into the barrel in the back of the truck.  Once we had a full barrel, Paul reversed up the drive to the basement window, stuck another length of hose through the window into an empty barrel, the other end attached to the full barrel, turned on the pump and down the water went into the barrel in the basement.  We used the second mini pump to transfer between barrels.  It's important to note that we add a small measure of bleach to each barrel-full of water - this is essential to kill any bacteria that would grow in storage.

*pause for breath*

As you can imagine, this arrangement, although brilliant, was just not workable for the long weeks and months of winter that stretched ahead.  It's only when you are suddenly deprived of unlimited free water, that you realize just how much of it you use in a day!  We needed a better, and more permanent, solution.  We had been toying with the notion of getting a well drilled for a while, but needs must, and after some research and phone calls we discovered that this was in fact the perfect time of year to get it done.  So we called George Rudderham and they came and drilled us a well.

The drilling of a well is an all-day job, and quite something to watch.  We were kind of hoping they'd strike oil ... or gold ... or (Paul's idea) rum.  But it didn't take them long to strike what we'd been waiting to find: water.  The well ended up being 62 feet deep, but the water sits only six feet down.  It's a financial investment that we really didn't want to have to make just yet, but it ensures that we will have a year-round source of water, no matter how low the temperature falls.

Now that we have a well, we no longer have to fetch water from the pond, but we still had to devise a way to get water from the well into our storage barrels.  Eventually we will dig a trench, lay in a water line from the well to the house, and our heavy-duty pump will deliver the water directly to our household systems.  But until this is done, we're still using the barrels.  Regular garden hose is no good at low temperatures as the hose freezes and becomes hard and unmanageable.  We ordered 100 feet of rubber hose from the hardware store ... and they gave us vinyl.  Apart from being half the price, it actually turned out to be better because for one thing, it's transparent, so if there are any freeze-ups, you can see where it is.  You can also watch the water coming through the hose.  So currently, we are using clear vinyl hose, drawn directly from the well, into the basement window and pumped into our storage barrels.  We're conserving water as much as possible, but we have a 200 gallon storage capacity over 4 barrels (remember the one from the back of the truck?) and it's really surprising how much water you can re-use and conserve when you put your mind to it.

Our water storage barrels and pumps.

Our brand new well head.

When the temperatures are steadily above freezing, we'll be able to return to our mountain stream water system.  But until then, thanks to our new well, at least we know that we'll never be without water again.

Stay tuned for The Threshold of Hell, Part 2 ...

Introducing Molly

Hey everyone, first of all, sorry for not posting for so long, we've been rather busy since Christmas! What I do have to do is introduce you to the newest member of Willow Retreat: our new golden retriever puppy, Molly. She is 9 weeks old and full of mischief and energy.

Here are some pics:

Molly and Me. :)

Enjoying the snow.

Molly is a classic pure bred golden retriever, very smart and full of beans.

Snuggle time!

First walk down the snowy lane.


Cuteness itself!

Of course, we're now in the midst of housetraining, and trying to stop her from biting and chewing everything in sight.  What is it with puppies and slippers, shoes, socks, and feet?

I'll update with more soon.